The number of cases being adjourned in the country court is increasing, research by the Law Society has suggested.
Almost a third (32%) of cases were adjourned or deferred to another day in 2016/17, compared to 25% the previous year, according to those who replied to its survey.
The most popular reason given for delays was the hearing being double booked (48%), with 36% blaming delays on judges scheduled to hear the case becoming “unexpectedly unavailable”.
Litigants in person (LiPs) also featured prominently in the study, with 16% of solicitors saying their hearing was adjourned after an earlier case overran because of the involvement of LiPs.
The researchers said solicitors who blamed delays on some ‘other’ reason tended to cite LiPs being involved or “court operations”, commenting that judges were willing to give LIPs “extra chances” or revise time estimates to suit them.
One solicitor commented at the end of the survey: “Certain judges in our local county court have been too willing to give adjournments to litigants in person even where they have no defence in law.
“One matter in particular was repeatedly adjourned because the judge hearing it wished to hear from the defendant who had not filed a defence and did not attend on multiple occasions.”
The survey was based on responses from 55 solicitors on the society’s Insight panel who had taken cases to the county court at some stage between March 2015 and March 2017. The society cautioned that the small sample meant the results should be regarded as “indicative” rather than “statistically significant”.
Solicitors were asked whether cases were adjourned because interpreters who were due to be at the hearing had become “unexpectedly unavailable” but none gave this as a reason.
At the end of the survey, lawyers were given the chance to elaborate on why cases were adjourned.
Comments on the operation of the county courts included: “The whole systems seems to be grinding to a halt. It takes months for allocation and directions to be dealt with, and months for any application to be listed.”
Another solicitor said: “Courts are much slower at responding to correspondence, listing application hearings or sending out directions.
“Frequently when directions are sent out the dates have passed for the first two directions. It is impossible to speak to anyone at most county courts.”
On lack of notice of adjournments, one solicitor said: “Pulling the plug on a trial the day before is hugely stressful for a client and costs a fortune in wasted costs for most ordinary litigants.”
Another said: “The case was first adjourned at Exeter County Court in June 16. It was then adjourned in September and has only recently now been relisted for June this year.
“Each time we were told only days before that the case was double booked, despite making it clear it was unlikely to settle.”
A solicitor who sat as a deputy district judge added that he was aware that lists of cases to be heard had to be cancelled frequently because of the lack of judges.